Saturday, February 28, 2009

To my Colleague, on Composition

Or, what I want to say in the lunchroom when my colleague complains that s/he wasn't trained to teach composition and hates composition and teaching composition is beneath him/her and the students never learn anything and blah blah blah.

Remember when you applied for this job, how we listed on the JIL that the job was about 50% composition? And when you came for the interview and we told you that everyone in the department teaches composition for about half our load?

Your letter of application talked about how well-prepared you were to teach composition, how much you took time to think of interesting and challenging assignments, how innovative you were in your approaches. Remember that? I do.

So, what, you forgot? Seriously?

Yes, I know composition:literature or creative writing =/= basic math:advanced math. I know it's a totally different field.

But this is the job that we advertised, and you applied and accepted the offer. And there are 100+ candidates who'd apply for your job in an instant if you decided to leave.

And your being far too amazing and wonderful to be asked to do such demeaning work? You should have taken the R1 offers you had, the ones in better geographic locations with better pay and benefits.

What's that? You deserved an R1 job, but you didn't get even an interview nibble? Remind me again how you deserved an R1 job because you went to Old Ivy and and you're white and male but the world is mean to white men.

So here we are together. It must be dreadful for you to have to share the lunch room with the non-Ivy likes of me.

I wonder why your students don't learn anything? Want to talk about that?


Yes, teaching composition is hard work. It's the hardest work I do, consistently, every semester, the hardest work. It's harder than writing someone's tenure letter, by far.

But in the pantheon of difficult jobs, I bet it's not in the top 100.

And since I knew from grad school that I'd be likely teaching composition for the rest of my career, I took some classes to prepare, and I read some research to keep up, and I struggle with it. I talk to our comp person to get ideas; I get ideas from other instructors. I even share some ideas. And it's still a struggle.

If you don't want to do HALF your job and do it well, then leave. Just leave. Either go to that R1 that's begging for the privilege of hiring you, or leave academics and do something else.

If I were Robert Browning, this would have been in blank verse. Alas, I'm not.

Imagine, though, the kick-ass assignments Browning would have come up with: "Write an argumentative essay asserting the rectitude of killing your wife."

Friday, February 27, 2009


Every open job at NWU just got put on hold.

We have an assistant headmaster position search - on hold.

We have the search in Underwater Basketweaving - on hold.

All the other searches across campus - on hold.

All those candidates who really need and want a job? This is horrible news for them. Every search on campus is gone, and probably not going to be re-opened for a couple years. We're just later to do it than most campuses, which really means that we've given people false hope for longer than the other places. So we're crueler.

I figure I've spent 50+ hours on the UWB search between this semester and last. And poof, that work means nothing.

The way faculty time works, we're just asked to do search committee work on top of other stuff; I didn't drop any of my other committee responsibilities, nor my teaching responsibilities, nor advising, nor research. I just added an extra week's worth of work to evenings and weekends and the break. And that doesn't "cost" the university anything visible because we just add it on as part of our responsibilities.

The money we spent on advertising, interviews, campus visits, that is, the money that's way more visible than faculty time, gone. Also gone is the time our administrative staff spent organizing the search materials. (And if you've never seen an office staff organize a search with 100+ candidates, making sure that everything gets where it needs to be, you need to know that it takes a load of work.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Canon to the Right of Me

Curricular discussion, yet again.

One of my colleagues laments. It's okay, s/he asserts (and I'm paraphrasing), that we teach [lit of people of color in whatever century/place], but really, we need to make sure students really know [lit of white men from that century] from that period. That's really central. The other stuff is okay, but only once students really know [lit of white men from that century]. The survey really needs to focus on [lit of white men from that century].

I teach mostly lit by white men. It's true. So far as we know, Shakespeare was white and male.

In conversations, I can tell that several of my colleagues assume that I must therefore agree that the white male canon is far superior to any other literature. I try to disabuse them of this notion pretty much every time, but it keeps coming back. I think they sort of don't hear me, because their assumptions are so strong.

What I'd like to say is that I don't think that white men have written anything interesting for the past 200 years, so we should, indeed, focus on writers of color or writers who are vaginally endowed.

It's not true, though. White men are still often fine writers who write interesting books. It would be fun to say it aloud, though, just to see the look of horror on their faces. But then they'd believe I really meant it, even if I said I was teasing, because they feel that white men are under siege, under attack (along with Christmas). It's one thing, I gather, to make sexist jokes about women, and quite another to make a joke about men. The one they take as funny because it's "just a joke," while the other they take as part of the war on all that makes life worth living.

But it is true that I don't value white male experience as central to what's important in literature.

It's going to be a long meeting, isn't it?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Another Poem Quiz

Here goes: What poem am I teaching today?

Thoughts on the Oscars

Let me admit right up front that I watched a program on Fats Domino rather than the Oscars last night, but I did look at the list of things that had already been awarded before I went to bed. And I had two questions.

I noticed that Slumdog Millionaire was nominated in all sorts of categories, though none of the acting categories. It won the best picture award (I learned this morning) without a single performance "worthy" of a nomination? I wonder how often that happens? (And I bet a movie buff could tell us within minutes.)

It makes me wonder if there wasn't a subtle (or not so subtle, but probably not really conscious) racism in play among the nominating voters. Racism doesn't always take a big systemic organization; sometimes it's the result of lots of little racist decisions, many of which aren't even consciously racist.

Then I noticed that among there was little overlap in the best picture and best actress/best supporting actress nomination fields. I think Kate Winslett/The Reader was the only overlap I saw.

I'm guessing there's not at all subtle sexism at work throughout the industry that makes fewer good roles for women because what "counts" as a good film is very masculinist and tells male stories. What sells isn't necessarily a great female actor, but male-centered films which often valorize violence and patriarchal values.

I wonder what sorts of roles Katherine Hepburn or Myrna Loy would find these days? I don't mean to be nostalgic, because it's not like Hollywood was ever a hotbed of feminism, but it seems ever more masculinist. We need more female producers, directors, and writers, don't we? (Though, to be honest, there would also have to be more women controlling disposable income spent on going to films, and I'm guessing most adult women have less time to go to films than most 13 year old boys. And do we really want to spend that much of our disposable income at films when there are bikes to be ridden, snow to be skied on, and books to be read?)

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Terminally Cute

My weekend visitor. She's maybe 6 months old.

For a pup, pretty much everything has play value. Everything. I'd sort of forgotten this, after having an aging dog for many years.

I think my blood pressure has probably dropped by 20 points just from laughing at her antics, playing, and petting those soft ears. However, my work hasn't gotten done at all.

Edited to add: I tuckered the puppy out! We played stick "chase and chew" out in the yard for about 40 minutes, and she's been sleeping for the past hour or so, that hard puppy sleep: she's plopped in her kennel snoring. Want to bet that within the next hour, she'll wake up more mischievous than before?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Night at the Movies: Milk

I went with some friends to see Milk last night. And as much as I get frustrated by the conservatism here, I must say that I was impressed to see how many people were seeing Milk last night. And they laughed at the jokes, and looked somber at the end.

The first thing I want to say about the movie is that I'm really glad it got made. And boy oh boy is Sean Penn superb.

Really, it's a good movie. It brings back some of the feel of the late 70s without being all in your face about doing techy stuff. The old images of folks like Carter and Jerry Brown worked well with the modern film stuff; they didn't clash like they do with some film because the colors feel really different or something.

So go see it.

I do have a couple of issues. The film momentarily noticed the sexism (especially against Lesbians) and racism of the gay movement in the 70s (at least as it played out in the Bay Area), but didn't critique those in a meaningful way. And they both deserve critique and examination. I get that doing lots with a critique would take away from the time devoted to something else, but I think it's important.

Tied to that was the representation of Jack. He was played in a really over-the-top way, and that representation fits all too tightly in with the ways white culture portrays Latino males as overly emotional, needy, and so forth. So that left my crowd wondering if the movie was just being orientalist, or if it was trying to make a point (was that supposed to be sort of how Jack looked to the "good boy" white males), or if a historical Jack really fit the stereotypes so bizarrely.

And where the heck was Diane Feinstein? Seriously. I mean, they showed her from afar once, and we heard her voice from offscreen, but you wouldn't know that she was coming up in party and as a supervisor.

Seeing Milk made me think about some "what ifs." I'm guessing, within the "what ifs" that Diane Feinstein wouldn't be a senator now if she hadn't become mayor after Moscone's assassination.

Seeing a representation of the gay male community in the late 70s made me think about HIV/AIDS. How much further would we be if we hadn't had to spend so much energy and time, and if we hadn't lost so many people to HIV/AIDS? It's rather horrifying to think, especially since California Prop 8 passed last November.

On the other hand, the lesbian reaction to HIV/AIDS had a lot to do with the gay male community's increasing acceptance. Without HIV/AIDS and Lesbians coming out to support and care for men, would we have found common ground? (If you think about it, there's no "natural" common ground, given that a lot of homophobia is scared of male penetration and that makes men a bigger target, while lesbians have less economic power, less political power, and face different challenges. We used to come together over fewer issues, with lesbians being secondary. Has that really changed that much?)

Within the film, there's one lesbian character, Milk's campaign manager, who is accepted grudgingly by Milk's close followers (at least at first).

It's as if lesbians can only be accepted so long as we're serving men and taking care of them, both in the film and historically. I don't think that's changed a whole lot in the past 30 years, but it needs to change, and we'd better not have to wait 30 more years.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Favorite Line

Some lines, when you read them, just speak to you, you know? At least that's how it feel. So, today, before a meeting, I was prepping for tomorrow's first class, and read,

This is hell, nor am I out of it.
And I thought, yes. It somehow seemed so appropriate for the meeting at hand. For pretty much every meeting, just in case.

I've racked up nearly three hours of meetings today, though two ran under, and one over. The long one was actually helpful and turned out well, I thought. It's good to work with adults. The others were fine as meetings go.

And now, I have hours of grading before I sleep.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I went for my first bike ride since Thanksgiving weekend today! It was pretty cold, and I didn't go very far, but boy oh boy is it way better than running!

It felt really awkward at first, clipping in, feeling the bike move under me (which it doesn't do on the trainer), and then there was the cold (supposedly it's 34F!).

There's a men's pro bike race in California this week; they were showing it on tv a bit yesterday, and it looked really rainy and nasty. So, biking today, I realized that I have two huge advantages for riding in the cold over those pro racers. Now, I know it sounds weird to say that I have advantages, but I'm serious.

First, they go way fast, so you know the wind chill thing has to just be horrid. There's a huge difference between the way a cold wind feels at 14 mph and the way it feels at 30. Advantage Bardiac!

Second, two words: body fat. They have none, and I have some. Advantage Bardiac!

I've also decided that I go just as fast on hills as they do. The difference is that it's their uphill speed matching my downhill speed.

I was so happy to go riding. It felt good! I'm so full of joy.

(And I'm also very pleased that I don't have to go when it's rainy and miserable out, like the pros do. Advantage Bardiac!)

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I'm, at best, a lazy birder. I don't get up at 5am to go out birding or anything. But sometimes I get lucky. I put out some seed starting last month, for the birds who overwinter, and for spring early arrivals.

I'm pretty sure this is a Common Redpoll. It looks like the pictures I found up at the Cornell site, and like the pictures from my book.

I had gotten my camera out earlier, when I first saw them, and then went out for a bit (after dropping a bit of seed on the deck which still has a layer of ice). And when I got back, these two were snacking on the deck. I was able to lie down just inside the sliding door window without bothering them much, and took a lot of pictures, trying to hold my hands steady enough to use the strongest lens setting.

The bird on top is the female (I think), and the one here, the male. But look at that weird thing beneath his beak. Some kind of tumor?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Grading Party

Sometimes it really helps to get together with some friends to sit and grade. It's hard, though, because you have to find folks who have reasonbly similar levels of interruptability and focus. It doesn't work if one person wants to talk the whole time and someone else is wanting total silence.

Today worked really well for me. We met at the local Frontier bookstore (and cafe), and I got four good solid hours of grading in, and lunch (we took a break and went down the street). But it barely made a dent in the grading. I did a lot, but couldn't bring myself to completion on most things. It's frustrating when you work hard for a chunk of Saturday and it barely shows.

The stacks and the scores:

Poetry papers - about 1/4 done
Drama papers - about 1/3 done
Comp papers - not even started
Comp journals - DONE!!!! (but this was a tiny stack)
Comp peer editing - 3/4 done

SAA thing - tomorrow!

And that doesn't count prepping for classes or committee responsibilities. The poetry and drama papers are near the shamefully late to return mark, but I just got the comp stack yesterday.

BUT, I finished a big chunk of my committee responsibilities for one committee this week, and it went well.

I need to either get back to work now or take a nap. One way or the other, the first two stacks need to get finished.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthdays

The 200th anniversary of the births of Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln.

Have you ever seen clips of those TV shows from the 50s where they'd have actors play the parts of famous folks from different eras, long past?

It would be cool to imagine Darwin and Lincoln conversing over dinner.

I guess statistically, it's likely that some very important folks will be born on the same day, but really, these are two giants in their century, and how cool is it that we can celebrate their work on this anniversary? Way cool.

Stepping Back

I met today with a student who is mentoring one of my introductory lit courses. S/he's a good, solid upper level student, with grad school aspirations, and a really good writer.

When we talked about the mentoring thing, we talked about the lit s/he really loves, and so I included some in the course design. So today we talked about teaching that lit, worked out passages, questions, a handout (for group work). And tomorrow, my student will take over the discussion.

It's sort of scary giving over a class to a student. It's not scary in that our students would be uncooperative. Indeed, our students tend to be very cooperative, especially with student mentors. But it's hard to step back and not talk, especially if something isn't working.

There's a lot of practice involved for most teachers (I think) in being able to "time" a class so that you get deep enough into the topic or issue, and also give some sense of how it fits within the class or discipline structure, so that you balance telling students something and helping them figure it out themselves. You can work out what you want to accomplish and how you want to get at that, but actually doing it isn't easy (at least it isn't for me).

And so, I'm a little hesitant about doing it. And it's hard not to step in if something isn't working, if the less experienced mentor hasn't practiced alternative ways of asking a question or something.

In my phud program, new grad students tended to get put into a comp classroom as teachers early on, and only later TA'ed for lit type courses. So most of us sank or swim on our own in a classroom for a couple years before we had an opportunity to do a "guest lecture" or anything. And when we had those opportunities, it was usually in a huge undergrad lecture class, so it really was a matter of lecturing. (As I was finishing up, the program sort of reversed so that new grad students got some experience leading discussion sections and grading before being responsible for organizing a whole course and such. It makes a LOT more sense that way.)

But I remember one prof I TA'ed for (and did a guest lecture for) who seemed to have difficulty letting grad students take over a lecture day. It's a huge thing, to take up an hour's time of 250 or more students, because if it's wasted, that's a LOT of time. But, of course, I didn't think of it quite that way then; I just wanted to get a chance to try out lecturing and all.

I had some good mentors in grad school, but I think they all figured we'd sink or swim giving a lecture, and I'm not as easy about that with my mentor. Of course, s/he isn't in grad school, and hasn't had time at the front of the classroom other than in the normal student presentation way, so maybe it's reasonable to be a little more controlling?

But it really does make me think about how controlling I tend to be in the classroom, because stepping back and letting someone else take control is really difficult for me!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I had a student in my office today whose voice was just incredibly loud and piercing. We were going over some stuff, and it got to the point that I didn't want to ask him/her a question because I didn't want the voice sounding.

I never know whether this is something I should mention to a student. I tend not to, because maybe I'm just over-sensitive right now for some reason, but then I wonder if other people will also find the voice problematic, and maybe it would be better if the student learned to modulate a little.

While I ponder that, I'm going to eat a couple Advil. My brain feels like it's been pierced through the ears. :(

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


Sometimes, I just want to vent. Sometimes, I want to yell.

Staple your papers.

Write your surname on your work before you turn it in.

Don't just stuff late work in my box or turn it in with the next day's pile of quizzes.

Take notes, and bring your notes to class.

I can't help the fact that you missed an in-class activity, nor can I think of a way for you to make up the work because it depends on other students working with you, and they've already done their part.

The list goes on. (And you should probably mentally add some expletives.)

The thing is, from a student's point of view, these are silly to get worked up about. Who cares is someone forgets to staple an essay. Really. What does it really matter?

And it's not like there are that many Jasons in the class, so why does the surname have to be there?

People forget stuff, and why should it really matter if something is turned in a day late? It's not like the prof has graded them all already.

I was sick, and had to miss class. Why can't I make it up.

And, of course, if there were one of these things at a time, it would be easier not to get worked up. If I only had one student who didn't staple work, I wouldn't care nearly as much. Sure, I could figure out if the pages got out of order, because really, how long does it take to read that one essay? What's fifteen minutes?

But I don't just have one student who hasn't stapled, or one Jason turning in work. I don't have just one student missing class to worry about, but 20-30 other people in the same class who didn't miss, and who want to go on with the next step. And it's a pain to try to keep track of 70+ peoples' work when it gets turned in at different times/places and gets into different piles.

And now I have to go off to an afternoon's schedule of meetings.

Deep breath, now, deep breath!

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Where Were You When Meme

I've been seeing this around, at Inside the Philosophy Factory, New Kid on the Hallway, and Anastasia's place.

1.) Challenger space shuttle exploded (1986): I was working at a mutual fund company, taking orders over the phone, and one of the other order clerks in the big room with me was on the phone with a broker who was watching out his window, so we heard third hand pretty darned quick. I remember later being amazed by Richard Feynman's argument about the o-ring problem as a cause.

2.) Berlin Wall falls down (1989): (November) I barely noticed. The world had pretty much crashed down (or tried) a month earlier, and I was still dealing. I was also doing a semester of observation in a composition classroom as part of my certificate program, so I had a lot on my mind.

3.) Oklahoma City federal building bombing (1995): I remember driving home, hoping that people in the US wouldn't jump to conclusions and start attacking Muslims (or presumed Muslims). I was also finishing up my dissertation, so I wasn't paying much attention other than that.

4.) OJ Verdict (1995): Did I mention that I was finishing my dissertation in 1995?

5.) Princess Diana dies (1997): I was pulling an all nighter grading, and CNN was on, so they started reporting it in the middle of the night and I was grading and watching. I never really got why she was so important to people who never even met her. I still don't.

6.) Columbine massacre (1999): I'm obviously totally self-centered. I was in the midst of finishing up at one job, moving (twice in two months), and getting ready to go to a new city and job. (And the word "massacre" seems so wrong for these murders. I think of "massacre" as more genocidal, I guess.)

7.) JFK Jr. Plane crash (1999): My dad died the next morning, so I don't think I even noticed the news in any real way. Some guy I never met died, and my Dad died. I know which had more of my attention.

8.) Bush/Gore crazy election (2000): Pure frustration.

9.) September 11, (2001): When I woke up in the morning, NPR was reporting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center, but it sounded like an accident. So I went to work, and was teaching. When I finished teaching my class, I went back to the department where someone had pulled an old TV into the break room, and people were gathered around. We watched the rest, pretty much in collective horror. Then when I went to teach my next class, everyone knew and we pretty much talked about our reactions.

10.) Space ship Columbia disintegrates (2003): This one didn't impact me hugely. I don't know what I was busy on.

11.) Hurricane Katrina hits (2005): This one was big. I know some people in the area, and I was really worried about them. I found out they were okay, so I was hugely relieved for them, but really stressed about the difficulties in getting people out, and then thinking about the levees and the wetlands and such.

Okay, so they should have started this with JFK's assassination. I actually don't remember that, but my first real memory is watching the funeral, specifically watching JFK, Jr. saluting, and my Mom explaining that his dad had been our president and had been killed, so he was sad. I was pretty little, but it made an impact on me. At the time, my Dad was vice-president of a small family business, and having no sense of scale, I worried for a while that my Dad would be shot, too.

The Native American occupation of Alcatraz should be there. Very important at the time, at least from my tiny point of view. Oddly, I don't remember any of the moon shots at all.

They should also have put the end of the Vietnam conflict in this. I remember that being so big and important. It was important to my family. Also Nixon's resignation. Oh, yeah, that was BIG!

The other public events that impacted me were the assassinations of John Lennon (1980), George Moscone, and Harvey Milk (November 1978). The assassination of Leo Ryan at the Jonestown massacre (900 plus people makes a massacre in my mind, I guess, November 1978) should be there. I can remember exactly where I was when I read about these in the morning papers. (That November of 1978 was pretty overwhelming and scary.)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Better or Worse

Imagine, for a moment, you're on a diet. Which is worse for the diet, bourbon or malt balls? (Does it depend on the type of diet?)

I like to think I'm a reasonably reasonable person. But about some things, I'm not. And, pathetically, I recognize that I'm not, but it doesn't help me be more reasonable, really. I can make up totally BS reasons, knowing they're BS, and really, knowing the real reasons, which aren't reasonable at all, and which are too stupid to admit to.

Sometimes, I feel like my body betrays me (or betrays itself, myself?). Lately, that's been mostly about the whole being middle-aged thing, which always ties in nicely with the unreasonable things. But not only.

A while back, I read about a program to help people get fit with push ups. They're good for core strength and upper body strength, and both would be good for my biking (and other things, too). So, finally, a couple weeks ago I started the program. I'm in such bad upper-body shape though, that I couldn't do a push up. I couldn't even do a push up from my knees. Nope, I had to start by using my futon frame (about four inches off the ground) and my knees. So double whuss push ups, you understand. And on the initial test, I could do three. Double whuss push ups and only three.

After the first week, I was able to switch to doing knee push ups, so that was an improvement.

So I did my end of the second week test, and in order to move up to the week three schedule, I'm supposed to be able to do at least 16 push ups at a time. I can't.

So I have to repeat week 2. I managed 11 knee push ups for the test, which is a big improvement over the pre-test, but, still, I'm disappointed in myself. And I still can't do a single regular push up.

Dramatic Despair

I haven't taught the drama course here in a good long time. I generally like teaching drama, but right now, I'm not enjoying the Greek stuff at all. It reads like closet drama to me. Nothing happens, and we spend endless speechifying recounting what happens offstage.

I'm not a lover of closet drama. Yeah, I tried teaching The Tragedy of Miriam, and I was lousy at it.

True confession: I passed my eyes over Samson Agonistes ONCE, and prayed that it wouldn't appear on my orals because I knew I'd fail if it did. Happily, it didn't. It is oddly tempting to wonder where I might be now, had it appeared and had I failed as a result. Somewhere warm, I hope. (This isn't a knock on Milton, either. As a grad student, I sat in on two undergrad classes to "fill in" for stuff I'd never taken classes in, and one of them was a Milton class, and let me tell you, it was chewy, yummy, fascinating stuff. Heck, I'd sit in on it again with the same prof if given the opportunity.)

I need something really smart and good to say about Greek stuff, because at the rate I'm going, a couple Quem Queritis tropes would seem lively and exciting.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

On the Other Side of the Job Market Campus Visit

I think I've mentioned being involved in a search over in Underwater Basketweaving, right? So, campus visits coming up. As a member of the committee, even a fairly tangential member, I'm one of the "hosts" for things.

The visit is basically two days, and here's what my part of the schedule looks like, according to the email I got:

First 24 hours: 9+ hours in candidate's presence, or responsible for candidate getting from one place to another, etc.

Second 24 hours: 4+ hours of responsibility.

I'm exhausted just thinking about it. And I'm NOT the chair! I haven't been responsible for making the arrangements (other than one thing), for making sure everyone in whatever office or department is up on things. Nope, I'm the outsider.

I also feel sorry for the candidate, because the idea of being in MY presence for 9 hours in 24 pretty much makes me want to run out of the room. (Though actually, I counted in times when the candidate will be meeting with someone else and I've walked them over or will need to walk them back, because things are confusing on campus, and having a candidate get lost might not make them want to come work here.)

Of course, on campus visits are pretty much an endurance hell test, and we all know it, and I hope we all try to be kind about it. Remember, candidates must be fed regularly and given an opportunity to drink and use the restroom with reasonable frequency!

And underwater basketweaving, I must confess, is something that doesn't spark my interest to quite the extent that, say, Shakespeare does. Or poetry. Or a host of other good stuff. It's not bad or boring in and of itself, but my ability to really focus on a job talk about isn't going to be what it could be for Shakespeare. Still and all, there's a nice possibility that we'll hire an outstanding colleague for UB, and that will benefit us across campus!

We could take bets on how quickly I'll put my foot in my mouth and ask about something that reveals my total naivety about underwater basketweaving. You know, I'll ask if they can use tule or something, and the whole room will stop to gasp and stare. Or I'll say something I shouldn't about how much I hate the weather, and the candidate will decide that s/he can't bear the idea of such a whiny colleague. And the the basketweaver types will be mad at me, and wonder why they asked me of all the idiots available to be on their search.


It's 6:53pm according to my computer, and I'm wondering if I can be in bed and by 7:15, and if I do, is it even minimally possible that I'll wake up in time to finish grading some papers for tomorrow morning's class?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Quiz Time

What poem did I teach in class today?

(I showed this to a colleague, and he showed me his drawing of a Wordsworth poem. And a Blake poem. From our drawings, it's quite obvious why we're not teaching art.)

Meeting Matters

I went to an important meeting yesterday. We did some of our business, and then, because our first presenter wasn't yet there, saw a presentation from another group, and talked about their thing. Then the first presenter appeared, and finally gave his presentation.

He read his handout aloud to us. Seriously, he read his handout aloud. There's probably a hundred years worth of advanced degrees around the table, and he read his handout aloud.

And then we were asked to make suggestions. Someone suggested that point A might make more sense if it were revised as [revision suggestion that made sense]. Our presenter nodded seriously and said, "yes, that's been mentioned to me."

That was the basic pattern a few more times. It was clear, that although these things had been syggested to our presenter, he hadn't actually done the revisions. Nor was he willing to say, "Yes, that's been suggested, and here's why I haven't made the change."

Then the presenter wanted our endorsement for his thing so he could take it on to the next group.

And I said, no, I'd like to see the revisions come before us, first. Shocking, aren't I?

Because clearly, he wasn't actually interested in what we were saying, or in revising the work. He wasn't really even listening. He was just doing that administrative dance where someone pretends to get feedback from the staff and faculty, and then does whatever he'd already planned anyway, without including any of the staff or faculty ideas.

I'm tired.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Negotiating Spaces

Increasingly, our classrooms are set up with a white board across the front of the room, and in front of that, in, say, the position of an altar, is a large "teaching station" set up so that someone can stand and look at a computer monitor. The computer, a nearby document camera, or other media thingy can be projected onto a big screen. About half of the screens are fixed in place, and about half can be pulled down or rolled up.

Sounds great, but when you sit down in the room, you realize that from any seated position (much lower than the "station"), the "teaching station" effectively blocks about one third of the board. It blocks a different third for some students than others, making about 2/3rds of the board space pretty ineffective.

And, of course, the "teaching stations" are tethered in place at the bottom by an umbilical cord of electronic connection things, so they can't be moved much more than two feet in any direction.

Ugh. Bad planning.

I write on the board a lot. Mostly, what I write is prompted by student questions, so I'm trying to respond at a given moment to a question with an illustrative bit of verse, a drawing, words, whatever. If I could see into the future, I could probably prepare powerpoints, but since I really try to make class responsive to student questions and issues, I'd have to make a ton of powerpoints and then sift through them, and hope I'd pre-prepared for every possible student question about every possible thing. But I can't see into the future, so I don't.

I've taken to using the document cam, but now I have to remember to take un-lined paper in and a thicker pen, because otherwise it's pretty unreadable.

I don't know how else to solve things, but planning for a less obtrusive "teaching station" and more board space would make me happier, for sure.

Monday, February 02, 2009


I would celebrate the idea of having only six more weeks of winter. CELEBRATE! PARTEEE!

I think we upper midwest folks ought to get a second day, say on April 1, which would predict whether winter would go on for another six weeks, or seven. Unfortunately, I'm not joking.

As it is, I have no hope for six weeks from now being other than miserably cold.

I tried to go out skiing after work, because it looked sort of clear and the campus web thing said it was about 8F. What I missed what how nasty the wind is. When I got home after falling on the ice (on my tush, ouch!), and sort of sliding around out there for a few minutes, I checked and it's minus 10 wind chill. Okay, so there are supposedly some problems with the way they figure "wind chill." Let me say, it was windy enough that my fingers started hurting right away and didn't stop until I was in the grocery store for five minutes rubbing them. And that was after "skiing" for about 10 minutes.

And stupidly, I had on my thin rather than my thick long johns. Yes, I have multiple long johns.

I hate being cold. We had a really nice day on Saturday, above 40 and everything, and I had all the hope of the moment, and now it's crushed again.

Between my sore tush and my cold hands, I seriously thought about getting something I shouldn't at the grocery store. It was tempting.

Do you ever just feel like winter will never end, and you'll never be warm? That's how I feel today. It's amazing how the cold can suck the happiness right out. And I had a good day teaching, too, but I walked back into the cold and it sucked the joy away and left me wanting to run away south, very far south, equatorial south, rain forest south!

Okay, enough whining. One of the things that's fun about teaching is that you get challenged to think on your feet all the time. Today, in my writing class, I needed a "you could write your essay about this" sample topic, and someone chose those square cheese crackers whose name you all know, and cooking with them. So then we brainstormed about writing an essay about that, and bubble-mapped it on the board by way of example. And it was fun to laugh at all the ways we could think of to use those crackers in food.

But then I went outside, and the cold sucked the silliness away. Stupid groundhog.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


I used to play Everquest. Everquest is a role playing game, an on-line one, with lots of other people playing at the same time. There are lots of these sorts of games around, sort of a computer, on-line with lots of people reworkings of the old Dungeons & Dragons games.

Key to all these games that I've ever played (an embarrassingly large number) is leveling. The idea is that you start out at level one, with certain minimal abilities and a very low life expectancy, and then as you play and kill DM or computer-spawned "bad guys" or beasties or whatever, you gain experience and get better at your skills. As the experience builds, you gain levels, eventually becoming level whatever is the max, if you play long enough. And levels gives you a lot more abilities and a lot more survivability.

One of the satisfying (and addicting) things about leveling is that you have a real sense of accomplishing something, a sense that you've improved and have more capabilities. Sometimes there are special "privileges" for folks of different levels, a last name or a title for your avatar/character, for example.

In Everquest, when you gain a level, the game sends a big and unique "ding!" sound, and it's quite common in groups and such for someone to say "ding!" when they level, and then everyone around congratulates them.

There are few times as an adult that I really have a sense of "leveling" or getting significantly better at something. Yeah, I earned a phud, and that represents a boatload of hard work, and yes, part of that hard work included finishing a significant original research project. And I think I'm a way better instructor and scholar now than I was before I finished the phud. It's helpful for employment, for sure. Getting tenure is better than nice, but I don't think I'm a better teacher because I have tenure (though I have more other responsibilities). But other than that, feeling like I'm getting significantly better at something is a pretty rare thing.

I went skiing yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, and it felt a little different, like I dinged to level 2 in cross-country skiing. I can pick up my feet a little better, and feel a little less awkward. I can bend my legs a little better. I can ski a little longer without feeling like I want to stop and just stand there.

I'm really glad that I don't have to face any orcs on skis, though. Seriously glad. It would be CR time, and I don't know any 56 or clicky stick clerics IRL.